When embarking on the journey into the Intermediate Series, you will need firm discipline. Think of discipline not as something imposed on you by some kind of drill sergeant, but as a daily ritual that you choose to internalize and perform, the highest potential to which you choose to dedicate your life. Once the behavior is ritualized, it will become embedded in your subconscious mind, and you will not question whether or not to perform the practice. Just as brushing your teeth is part of your morning ritual, the practice will be integrated into your daily routine without requiring a massive energy expenditure to include it each day. The following tips helped me maintain the daily practice that is the foundation of the method, and I hope they will help you too.
Create a sacred space, and practice in the same place every time. If you practice at a yoga studio, simply going to the studio is enough; you don’t need to occupy the same spot on the floor every day. But if you practice at home, it is crucial to create a dedicated space for your practice, even if it is just one small corner of a small apartment. Place a photo of your teacher in front of your mat so you are reminded of him or her when you practice. When I practice at home, I see the photos of my teachers and am inspired to practice. Sometimes I pretend that Guruji is in the room with me, which definitely motivates me. If you have the space, you might even leave your mat unrolled all the time, to claim the space for practice instead of for other things in your life. It is ideal to have a room that you can devote entirely to yoga, but not everyone has that luxury. Just the space of a yoga mat can be a precious resource, so setting it up can claim the space as an altar to the spiritual intention within yourself and your life. Especially on days when you don’t feel like practicing, just go and stand on your yoga mat at your scheduled practice time and see what happens. If the energy is strong in that spot, it will pull you forward into the practice. If you change into your yoga clothes at the time you have set for your practice and stand on your mat, the attraction to practice will be even stronger. Sometimes just wearing yoga clothes will help you get in practice mode.
Practice as close to the same time every day as possible. The more you can make your practice part of your daily routine, the easier it will be to practice consistently. If it is not possible to practice at the same time every day, then set a weekly schedule. Make appointments on your calendar for yoga practice and stick to them. Setting the time helps to ritualize your behavior, and you will expend less energy keeping to the discipline of daily practice.
Share your motivations for practicing with your family or housemates. Including other people in your journey will encourage them to support your practice. Having the respect of your family and friends is helpful, because it means that yoga is integrated into the big picture of your daily life.
Let go of the “all or nothing” idea. If you have only five minutes a day, use that time to practice. Many people will not practice unless they can do a full ninety-minute session. Taking that much time is certainly important, especially when you begin the Intermediate Series, because the practice gets longer and longer. But there will be days when your time is limited, and it is not useful to skip practice if you only have twenty minutes. As little as five minutes a day gives you the chance to do at least a few Sun Salutations and maintain the continuity of your practice. Particularly if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the Intermediate Series, it is important that you at least maintain some aspect of daily practice, even if you do not have the time or energy to complete every posture. A little yoga is better than no yoga.
Seek out classes, teachers, workshops, retreats, trainings, books, videos, and social media for inspiration. Join a class whenever you can with a teacher who inspires you. Travel if necessary to take intensives and immersions. Follow teachers and yoga practitioners who inspire and support your journey on social media (YouTube and Instagram are great home practice supports).
Be disciplined with yourself. Hold yourself to a certain standard, and be your own coach when you practice solo. A great way to be disciplined with yourself is to assign yourself a project for your practice and focus on that. When you are working on backbends, it can be especially hard to figure out exactly what to do each day. It is best to have a routine that you do every day without question. That routine is best set by a qualified teacher, but if you do not have access to a teacher, assign yourself a project that you will do every day for at least one month. For example, your routine could be to engage your pelvic floor strongly each time you extend your spine or to repeat Kapotasana three times every day. At the end of the allotted time, evaluate the success of the project, and either continue it or move on to a new one. Do not go crazy and assign yourself too many projects, or you will get overwhelmed. I never have more than one project per practice, which allows me the freedom to experience the flow of the practice spontaneously.
Set small, attainable goals on which you focus during each practice. This goal-setting is part of a healthy mental training and will be explained in greater detail in the introduction to the backbends segment of the Intermediate Series. If you can’t get yourself motivated to practice, do not force yourself to do everything. Just set a small goal for that day’s session. For example, on a day when you would rather stay in bed, tell yourself that you will do at least ten minutes. Once you succeed at the small goal, ask yourself if you want to stop or do more. Usually succeeding at the small goal builds momentum, and you will want to do a little more. Another example is the simple requirement of staying in each posture for five breaths. For poses that are very challenging, such as Karandavasana, staying for a full five breaths can be daunting. So you might assign yourself an even smaller goal, such as staying for two breaths. When you succeed at that, you can increase to three breaths and so on until you reach the full five breaths. Small successes generate further interest and energy for the practice.
Keep a daily log to chart the course of your practice. Make it easy, like an app on your phone that clicks each time you practice or a calendar note. If you keep a log of how many days you spend doing yoga, you can add them up at the end of the year and acknowledge the work you’ve put in. I haven’t found a good yoga app that helps, but maybe I’ll develop something one day.
Another way to chart your course is to take before and after photos of yourself in the asana that is most challenging for you. Since you will be doing the posture every day, you might not feel the progress because you are down in the trenches of your own inner battles. However, when viewed from the perspective of many months or years of practice, physical progress is usually evident. Taking a photo once every three to six months will help you verify the forward movement that might not be obvious from your inner experience.
Do not beat yourself up when you don’t practice or when you feel that a session was a train wreck. Just be grateful that you have a home practice, and give yourself the span of your lifetime to practice yoga. Practice being grateful and you will actually train your mind to think more appreciative thoughts. Through the mirror of yoga, you experience the natural fluctuations of the body and mind. Some days, your body will feel flexible; other days, it will be tight. Some days, your body will feel strong and other days, weak. Sometimes, your mind will be calm and clear; other times, it will be disturbed and distracted. Your job is not to be bothered by the fantastic display in the field of your experience. Watch with objectivity, cultivate curiosity for the present moment, turn up, and do your practice every day. Do not hold on to the good times or fight to remove the bad. Just be exactly where you are and trust that it is exactly where you need to be.